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Remembering Tony Gwynn, the Greatest Hitter of His Generation

Posted on June 16, 2014 by Dean Hybl
Tony Gwynn spent his entire 20 year career with the San Diego Padres and led them to their only two World Series appearances.

Tony Gwynn spent his entire 20 year career with the San Diego Padres and led them to their only two World Series appearances.

The baseball world lost another all-time great with the death Monday of former San Diego Padres star Tony Gwynn at the age of 54 as a result of his long-time bout with cancer. The popular player known as “Mr. Padre” will best be remembered for his sweet swing and his infectious smile and love for the game.

There are many statistics to describe just how great a hitter Gwynn was during his 20 year Major League career, but I think there is one that illustrates it best and properly cements his place in baseball history.

Since the retirement of Lou Gehrig 75 years ago, of all the players who have played in the majors only Ted Williams (.344) has hit for a higher career batting average than the .338 average posted by Gwynn.

What is even more impressive is that of players who retired since Williams left the game in 1960, the next best average behind Gwynn is Stan Musial at .331. Of players whose careers actually overlapped with Gwynn, the next closest averages are more than 10 points below him belonging to Wade Boggs (.3279) and Rod Carew (.3278).

A California native who played both basketball and baseball at San Diego State, Gwynn was drafted by the Padres in the third round of the 1981 amateur draft and made his major league debut just a year later.

Gwynn has the best batting of any major leaguer since Ted Williams.

Gwynn has the best batting of any major leaguer since Ted Williams.

He joined the Padres at a crucial time in the franchise history as the two best players developed by the team in recent years, Dave Winfield and Ozzie Smith, had both left for greener pastures and there was concern as to whether the Padres would ever be able to compete and maintain their top stars.

After hitting .289 in 54 games as a rookie, Gwynn hit at least .309 in every one of his final 19 seasons and hit .320 or better 13 times. He averaged hits in three out of every four games in which he played throughout his entire.

He won his first batting title with a .351 average in 1984 to help lift the Padres to their first World Series appearance. Though they lost the World Series in five games to the Detroit Tigers, with Gwynn serving as their anchor they would post a winning record eight times in 15 years (after having just one winning season in their first 15 years) and solidify their place in San Diego.

Gwynn would go on to win eight batting titles with the last coming at age 37 in 1997 when he hit .372. In that amazing season Gwynn had a career high 220 hits, 49 doubles, 17 home runs and 119 RBI.

The next year, he hit .321 to help the Padres reach the World Series for the second time. Gwynn hit .500 against the Yankees, but the Padres were no match for the team that set a new record for wins in a season losing in four straight games.

He would play three more seasons and retired after hitting .324 in 71 games during the 2001 season.

That Gwynn is the best hitter for average in the game since Williams is very fitting. The two men both were pure hitters and loved to talk about their craft.

As we know, Williams was the last player in baseball to hit .400 or higher for a season and in 1994 Gwynn came the closest to that mark of any player since 1941. Gwynn was hitting .394 when the league went on strike that August and denied him a chance to match the Splendid Splinter.

On August 6, 1999 he joined the exclusive 3,000 hit club and retired with 3,141 hits, which rank 19th all-time in baseball history. He struck out only 434 times in more than 10,000 career plate appearances.

Gwynn and Cal Ripken, Jr. were inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2007.

Gwynn and Cal Ripken, Jr. were inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2007.

Another player with whom Gwynn will forever be linked is Cal Ripken, Jr. Both players spent their entire career with one franchise and were as gracious and dignified as any players in baseball history.

It was fitting that both players were inducted into the Hall of Fame in their first year of eligibility in 2007.

Following his retirement, Gwynn was able to fulfill his love of the game as a teacher of the sport. In 2003 he became the baseball coach at his alma mater, a role he maintained until his death. He also served as an occasional commentator for ESPN.

His brother, Chris, spent parts of 10 seasons in the majors and completed his career playing with Tony for the Padres in 1996. His son, Tony Gwynn, Jr., played collegiate baseball at San Diego State and is currently in his eighth major league season playing for the Philadelphia Phillies after previously playing for the Brewers, Padres and Dodgers.

Gwynn was diagnosed with cancer of the salivary gland in 2010 and battled the disease for the next four years. He is survived by his wife Alicia and two children.


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